Toxoplasmosis is a zoonosis, in other words an illness that can be passed onto humans. It's a parasitic infection which can affect many animals but it's via cats that the parasites reproduce and spread.This illness can be very dangerous, particularly if you're pregnant. However, a cat is not the first cause of the transmission of toxoplasmosis among humans.Discover below exactly what toxoplasmosis is, how to avoid it, recognize it and the consequences it can have on a cat and a human's health.
1. What is toxoplasmosis ?
Toxoplasmosis is an illness brought on by a parasite called toxoplasma gondii. It can infect many mammals by forming cysts, each with about 3000 parasites.The cat is the main host of this parasite, meaning that it's only via a cat that it's able to develop and reproduce. A cat is generally contaminated when it eats raw, contaminated meat, mostly while out hunting.
Source: Pet Care Facts
Once digested, the parasites multiply in the cat's intestine, forming eggs which then come out in the cat's faeces. A contaminated cat can release several million toxoplasm eggs each day. This phenomenon lasts between one and three weeks and immunises the cat against all other infections.If the cat has access to the outside then the eggs can be deposited in nature and end up in the grass eaten by bovines which we then eat and thus have in our system.
The most susceptible cats are ones that have access to the outside and hunt. Contamination generally takes place at a young age, when the cat is first starting to hunt. Indoor cats can also be contaminated if they eat raw or undercooked meat.
2. Symptoms of toxoplasmosis in cats
Cat toxoplasmosis can show itself in two different ways; toxoplasma infection or toxoplasma disease.
Toxoplasma infection: This is the most common of the two and often goes unnoticed. During an infection, the cat ingests parasites which will then be reproduced in their intestines. As said earlier, they are excreted which then immunises the cat. There are usually no consequences other than a mild fever and tiredness. Around 60% of cats are affected.
Toxoplasma disease: This is significantly rarer. It's a classic infection that worsens when the cat's immune system is weak (leucosis, FIV, other infections...). Toxoplasms form cysts in the intestines which can lead to pancreatitis, pneumonia, serious neurological problems, hepatitis or even heart problems which can lead to a heart attack. The disease can also lead to abortions in pregnant cats or development problems with the kittens.
3. Diagnosis and treatment of toxoplasmosis in cats
A toxoplasmic infection usually goes undiagnosed, not needing any treatment.In the case of a toxoplasmic disease. the diagnosis is difficult to clearly establish at the beginning. The possibility of other illness such as cat HIV, leucosis or peritonitis needs to be eliminated first. Examining the stools is useless as the cat will only release eggs on the first couple of days after the infection.
Source: My pet reference
One of the most effective ways of knowing if your cat is infected, is by looking at its eyes; a cat infected with toxoplasm disease will develop uveitis or chorioretinitis, also known as eye inflammation. However, this can also be diagnosed as something completely separate to toxoplasmosis.In cases where the disease is diagnosed, an antibiotic treatment will be given. After three weeks of this, the cat will no longer be contagious even if it's still being treated.If a neurological problem appears during the disease and continues after treatment then it is sadly irreversible.There is currently no vaccine protecting cats against toxoplasmosis. Shop bought food and limited time outside hunting are the only ways to protect your cat.
4. Toxoplasmosis in pregnant cats
Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted to humans. There are usually no serious consequences for humans, except if you're pregnant. An infection can last up to six months and can have grave consequences on the foetus' health.
Source: The cat connection
It is therefore advised that non-immune pregnant women take great care with regard to cats during pregnancy.However, according to a european study done by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2000, only 0,1% of toxoplasmosis cases among humans are due to contamination via cat faeces.Danger comes mainly from eating undercooked or raw meat which makes up for 63% of cases. There is hence no point in avoiding all contact with your cat during pregnancy.Wear gloves when you clean out your cat's litter. This should be enough to avoid contamination by this way.
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